The Rangers Game Log

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Let's Go Rangers!

- This is what we’ve been waiting nine long years for? I don’t know about you, but I’m not having fun at all. What did we do to deserve this? I think of all the excitement and hoopla over making the playoffs; the Bobby Granger commercial with him running around hugging everyone, the singing playoff tickets, and it’s all for this? To be tortured by the Devils, beating ourselves, screwed by the refs, self-inflicting injuries, and suffering the kind of bad luck that I thought was exorcised in 1994? Is Mike Keenan the only living being that can stave off the demons?

Have you ever experienced a more agonizing two minutes as a Ranger fan than the end of that second period? Two minutes of five-on-three. I was practically lying on the floor, barely able to watch. And perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered. A total of one shot on goal, that by our favorite Ranger Sandis Ozolinsh after seven seconds. And that was it. Sykora, who played a spunky game but missed earlier on a two-on-one that he should have buried, hit the goalpost flush on. Rucchin missed on a redirection attempt from in front of the net. And then there was the goal, a play that will guarantee Ozolinsh a place in Rangers notoriety for all time. I can’t imagine he’ll play at the Garden, even though the Rangers can hardly afford to not dress him given the fact that Jagr is out for Game 3.

But the third period reaffirmed my faith in the team, or at least what’s left of it in the wake of the carnage. I don’t think anyone would have been surprised, or even too disappointed if the team sagged after the most devastating end-of-period turnaround one could ever imagine. But instead, they continued to buzz and hit and skate and took the play to the Devils right to the very end, when Brodeur fittingly denied Ozolinsh with his acrobat diving stop.

This may sound crazy, but if the season ended after Game Two, what would stick in my mind is not the season-ending losing streak, not the way they could never get going again after the Olympics, not the penalties they took in Game 1, not Jason Ward ending his own season, and not even the pathetic lunge at Scott Gomez that put Jagr out of action. It would be the effort of 19 guys (yes, including Ozolinsh...he tried and doesn’t mean to suck) who showed the kind of pride in wearing a Rangers uniform that we haven’t seen in a long time. They showed moxie, character and grit, and isn’t that all we could have asked for when the season started?

So strike up a cheer when the boys hit the ice resplendent in Blue. They can win this game with a similar effort, some big saves and a couple of breaks, and God damn it, aren’t we due for a little luck? The Devils will be exposed before this tournament is over, and even if the obstacles are too much for us to overcome, the Rangers can at least initiate the cracks. The Rangers did indeed restore their identity in Game 2, at least the part that remains. At least for this one night, with all of us behind them, these remnants can be enough. Let’s Go Rangers!!

- Where do people like Johnette Howard of Newsday, who probably watched about two Rangers games this year, come off criticizing Renney for starting Weekes? Rangers fans are entitled to their opinion on this – mine is that I go along with the coach if he felt that Weekes gave them a better chance to win this particular game. And no, Weekes didn’t make a big save in the game. But I don’t need to read that from know-nothing columnists that speak in condescending and derisive terms about a coach who has done a lot more things right than he’s done wrong.

- I’ll be at Game 3 of course, and the last time I was at a Rangers playoff game was the last one played at the Garden; the excruciating Game 4 semifinal loss in 1997 against the Flyers. This story is absolutely true; I’m not making it up, I swear. I was at home, getting ready to leave for the game, and the doorbell rang. It was a dry cleaning delivery. “How much?” I asked.


I took this as a very bad sign, but I didn’t think it signaled nine years of bad luck. When is this going to end? Do you think this is all my fault?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Game One, By The Penalties

1) D. Moore, 03:28 - Holding - This was by far the most outrageous of the calls. Cam Jannsen took a run at Moore long after the latter had relinquished the puck and seemed to lead with his elbow. This was deemed to be a legal play, but Moore defending himself but pushing his attacker off was not. It was a ludicrous and damaging call, as it led to Elias’ first goal. This was also an early indication that we weren’t going to win on goaltending. Nice shot, but nothing we haven’t seen Lundqvist swat away; he looked late with his glove hand.

2) J. Ward, 06:39 – Elbowing The new combination of Ryan Hollweg being moved up to the Betts-Ward line had produced a good forechecking stint in the Devils zone and had pressured the puck in deep when Ward led with his elbow up high in hitting Gomez somewhat clumsily along the center-ice boards. Worse, Ward was injured on the play, and left the arena on crutches.

3) J. ORTMEYER, 17:56 – Interference – Overlooked in the Rangers’ penalty blitz is the failed power play attempts, including the two following the one on which Prucha scored the only goal (and on which they should have been awarded another power play when Gionta pulled down Ozolinsh). The second power play was followed by an extremely strong shift by Jagr-Hollweg-Betts. But shortly thereafter, Ortmeyer took down Langenbrunner on what looked like could have been a dangerous leg on leg hit.

4) S. OZOLINSH, 19:21 – Tripping – Just a stick chop on Zach Parise along the boards. Though you felt OK after they killed off the resulting 5-3 and got out of the period tied at one, the Rangers looked like the better team before penalties #3 and 4 disrupted their flow.

5) Second period, NYR, M. ROZSIVAL, 01:49 – Boarding – This was just a bad play. You can argue that the player turned his back, but the check was high and he followed through with his gloves, smashing his face into the glass. He was lucky it wasn’t a double minor or worse. Instead of building on their penalty kills, three-for-three since the goal, they were shorhanded again.

6) B. BETTS, 06:50 – Hooking – This was the killer of them all. A good kill on #5 turned into a power play, and though they didn’t score (again), they followed it with yet another good five-on-five; it’s early game sequences like these that make us think that we have a shot. Jagr- Nylander-Sykora, then Rucchin came on; this was perhaps the strongest point of the game for the visitors. After a TV timeout, Hollweg went to the net and Brodeur froze the puck. Then off the faceoff, Betts was called for hooking behind the Devils net; I dunno, perhaps he had his stick up into the player’s chest. In any event , you cannot take that penalty in the offensive zone! Not only did it stop the momemtum, the Devils scored on the criss-cross pass that Lundqvist, so quick on his lateral movement during the season, could only watch. An absolute killer.

7) NYR, M. MALIK, 13:24 – Roughing – Again, the Rangers were more than holding their own at full strength when Malik took a needless roughing call on a high forearm at center ice. What the hell!?! And then when the Rangers drew an even-it-up penalty on a rush that resulted in a great chance in front for Moore, it was 8) T. POTI, 15:09 - Hi stick, taking a careless penalty, leading to the killer 3rd Devils goal, which followed Dominic Moore’s near miss off the post. This led to what was effectively a power play goal, on a Ken Klee shot that fluttered in after being deflected.

After what I’m sure must have been an emphasis on not taking penalties during the second intermission, #9) NYR, J. JAGR, 00:32 – Hooking, #10) NYR, M. HOSSA, 04:52 - Cross check, and #11) NYR, M. MALIK, 07:06 – Elbowing, took place, incredibly, in short succession starting the 3rd period. Jagr’s was unbelievable; as JD said, he hooked him for “about 1/18th of a second,” (as JD struggled to maintain his objectivity). It took the Devils 20 seconds to cash in on another shot that Lundqvist didn’t see. Hossa’s “cross-check” was called by the trailing official; Malik’s elbowing was blatant and was followed by the 5th goal.

#12) and #13) R. HOLLWEG, 14:11 – Roughing, and R. HOLLWEG, 14:11 – Instigator were the only productive penalties of the game, as Hollweg retaliated for a vicious run on Kasparaitis by Weimer by starting a fight with Jannsen, who was not penalized for grabbing Hollweg’s hair. Expect to see these two go at it again.

- So while it’s true that the Rangers played very well at full strength, it’s not as simple as just not taking penalties, for the following reasons:

- They’ve taken bad penalties all year, and were obviously cautioned during the intermissions. So why should they be able to change their ways at this time?

- The power play continues to struggle, and was nearly as ineffective as the PK, though that fact is being overlooked. After Prucha’s goal, they failed to capitalize on six and a half straight attempts, all at key points of the game with the Rangers still within one or two goals.

- Lundqvist doesn’t look like the same goalie, and was outclassed by Brodeur, who, yes, in my opinion, did consciously steer the rebounds away adroitly. I, for one, would not be shocked if Renney went to Weekes. In fact, the AP reported that Renney was surprisingly noncommittal when asked if Lundqvist or backup Kevin Weekes would play.

- And of course, the big question which, if answered negatively, makes this whole discussion moot. I don’t know if Jagr was trying to emulate Mark Messier’s infamous stick to the face of Doug Gilmour which legend says turned the 1997 series around, but his flailing at Scott Gomez and resulting injury resulted from nothing but frustration, which we’ve seen him display before, and to the detriment of his teammates. He did not look well exiting the arena, as those around him were seen staring down at his arm, and didn’t practice on Sunday. Renney said "He's uncomfortable, but it doesn't appear to be too bad." We’ll see, but you gotta believe he'll be out there; how effective we don't know. Jason Ward’s injury seems to be worse, and he’s already been missed on the PK.

The real tragedy of the fiasco was that, with Colin White out of the game, the Blueshirts had an opportunity to do some real damage five-on-five. I’m usually a pretty optimistic guy, but I really don’t know if the Rangers can stop this downward spiral, especially with the power play sputtering and Lundqvist not coming up large. But they’ll have to stay out of the penalty box to avoid being embarrassed.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

History is (not always) Bunk

- Stan Fischler pointed out tonight that the 1949-50 Rangers went into the playoffs on a losing streak, and yet went to the 7th game of the Finals. Of course, that was only two rounds. And 56 years ago. Fischler really has a way of bringing up the relevant points.

More significant is the recent history, which shows that the Rangers are 3-0 against the Devils, and more significantly, against Brodeur. Marty has a real stick up his ass about this fact, and it seems obvious that he bristles when the subject of Blueshirts come up. There was an absurd article the day after Mark Messier night in which major Rangers-hater Mark Everson interviewed Brodeur, who made some ridiculously bitter comment to the effect that had he made a couple more saves against the Rangers in ’94, perhaps there wouldn’t be such a fuss over The Captain. I don’t usually waste my time writing to these guys, but I emailed Everson, writing: If Ron Hextall makes a couple more saves in the '95 Conference Finals, then maybe Martin Brodeur Night won't be necessary. Talk about sour grapes, what a stupid article!

It’s a funny thing in professional sports how things about particular franchises stay the same even though all the players change. The Rangers could never be like the Flyers, even if the teams traded for each other tomorrow. They’d still be the Rangers, and no doubt suddenly the ex-Flyers wouldn't be nearly as tough. When we used to, or still say “Same Old Rangers,” well, it’s not really the same old Rangers, otherwise we’d be watching Phil Goyette. But as time goes by, it’s no longer quite as important who was occupying the uniform at any particular time. The team’s history can inhabit the present, and get into the heads of fans and players alike. When the Rangers and the Devils were in overtime, and then the second overtime in Game 7, you could feel the weight of the 54 years, right there in the Garden, waiting to crush our hopes, perhaps forever, or so it seemed.

Though it’s not quite as profound as going 54 years without a Cup with 29 of those years being in a six team league, I think there’s something to the Rangers’ post-season dominance of the least there can be if the Blueshirts make it that way. A strong start and an early score can start to stir those thoughts of the past, especially with Brodeur, who has lived it himself, and is particularly subject to its effect. You know he’s thinking about it. The Rangers can get to him, and the Garden crowd can remind him of the past. An early wraparound goal or two could send him completely off the edge.

- I guess we’ll have to suffer with Emrick on Saturday on NBC. Of course, you have to listen to him when you watch the tapes of Game 6 in ’94 too, since MSG didn’t televise the games from the swamp back then. I’m not sure if the new DVD uses Howie Rose’s radio broadcast instead, but who can listen to him anymore? Even Matteau, Matteau is ruined a little bit. OK, it’s not.

- Trautwig said on MSG that “half the team had the flu,” though he can be flippant at times. Dubi at Blueshirts Bulletin wrote that the top line just took the day off. In any event, Renney plans to play Ozolinsh on Saturday, and I think that’s a no-brainer. He’s a major offensive talent and can bring a lot to the attack, and the Rangers will have to deal with his mistakes; that’s what playoff-caliber goaltending is. They’ll particularly need him on the power play, which just must improve for them to have a shot. The good news is that the power play has been red hot / ice cold all year, and it’s about time for it to perk up.

- It was truly a playoff atmosphere on Tuesday night, even though there was only one Rangers goal. The audible groan and accompanying silence after each Sens goal told you how much the game meant, at least to the fans.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Wha' Happened?

- Well, it seems to have simply come down to Henrik Lundqvist saving the season. In addition to stopping the puck, it’s up to Lundqvist to revive the power play; to make Martin Straka not pass when he should shoot (on net), and not shoot when he should pass; to get the forechecking game going again; to get Renney to not bench Jed Ortmeyer against the Flyers (we’re 0-2 when he does so); to get Peter Prucha scoring in bunches again; to stop Michael Nylander from taking offensive zone hooking penalties; to get the officials to get their calls right (what a joke, the way they handled the attack on Ryan Hollweg on Saturday).

Of course, by stopping the puck and controlling rebounds, he could actually really help settle down Sandis Ozolinsh, who seems to now be getting blamed for all the defensive woes. And the return of Darius Kasparaitis should help in that regard too.

But how did it come to this anyway? Everything seemed fine if not flawless, really, after the playoff clincher against the Flyers. The subsequent sleepwalk against the Islanders was expected; the fact they could win with such a half-hearted effort was encouraging. There was the OT win in Boston against a team that has now lost 23 out of their last 29 (8 in OT or SO); nothing to write home about for sure, but nothing awful either. The Bruins have at least battled and have now lost consecutive 4-3 decisions to desperate Ottawa, Montreal, and Atlanta squads. The 2-1 loss in New Jersey to the league’s hottest club in a hotly-contested and well-played game was certainly no disgrace; and even the loss to the Islanders, while inexcusable, was explainable and mitigated somewhat by the third period onslaught.

So what has happened? How did things get as bad as they’ve been for the last two games? Individual player meetings and a 20 minute closed-door lashing have had no effect. So really, what is there to lean on now other than the return of King Henrik? The theory goes that everything starts with spectacular goaltending, which the rest of the team feeds off of. Lundqvist will be asked to provide that coming in cold against an Ottawa team who, as luck would have it, needs to win to keep their conference title hopes alive (also needing the Hurricanes to lose). Perhaps it should be a bit reassuring that the Sens, losers of 9 of their last 12, find themselves in actually a worse position than the Rangers, at least in terms of not controlling their own fate. Two quick goals for Buffalo against the Hurricanes, as the now-revived Sabres did to Toronto the other night, could help deflate the Sens, who continue to struggle even with Chara and Redden back in the lineup. In all the weeks (months) that we’ve been staring at this final, ominous-looking game on the schedule, who would have thought that it would turn out to be anything but an unwelcome distraction for the Senators, and a chance to rest their best players. Just our luck…

- With all the talk of the benefits of Lundqvist and Kaspar’s returns, overlooked is the hoped-for return of Martin Rucinsky early in the first round against whoever the hell we’re going to end up playing. He’s been out a lot this year, and the team has mostly done well without him, so perhaps he’s a bit forgotten. But at this time of year, with the intensity up and scoring more difficult, this team in particular can ill afford to have a point-per-game scorer out of the lineup. I think his return could be a big boost; he’ll help the power play, and whether he or Straka moves down to play with Sykora on the second line, it will hopefully relieve some of the pressure on Jagr, which will only be cranked up further starting Friday night.

- And how about those Devs, man! An amazing winning streak indeed, especially considering that pre-streak they were teetering on the edge of elimination, with Brodeur looking almost amateurish at times, and they were facing what seemed to be a treacherous stretch of schedule. But their ten wins have come against Philly (3), Rangers, Ottawa, Buffalo, Carolina, and Montreal (and two against the Pens). Even us Blueshirts fans must give them full credit (and thank them for beating the Flyers).

Three things for those of us who dread seeing another “parade” around the Meadowlands parking lot to consider. 1) Do you really want to go into the playoffs with an 11 game win streak, should they win tomorrow? (Note that Montreal could be playing for their playoff lives if Atlanta wins tonight.) I mean, how long can a team stay hot? 2) Remember that they’ve been a streaky team all year. They won 9 in a row and 10 of 11 in January, only to fall back into the doldrums that had them in such a precarious position before the streak. And 3) Given the state of the Meadowlands parking lot with all the construction, they’d have no place for their little procession anyway.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

She Ain't Seen Nothing Yet (We Hope)

- I got home from the game on Tuesday, and went right to the laptop to read what was up with Malik's injury, to check on the finals from out-of-town, and to scan the official super-stat sheet on the game. "I can't believe Malik is hurt now and the Flyers won, shit, but I figured out that all they have to do is win the next two games and I can't believe my brother told my mother to have the Seder on the second night when he knew we had a game even if it's a road game and when the hell is Lundqvist going to be back and I can't believe Prucha missed that shot and oh my god the Devils won again, we're definitely going to play them, and what am I going to do Thursday night, are we going to start to watch the game there or should I watch the game on the DVR when we get home and I have to call Direct TV to schedule them so we can have OLN in time for the playoffs but if they come on Saturday, what if they're not done before the game starts...."

"STOP!" the Head Chef said. "You're obsessed!"

We've only been together for five years. So she has no idea what is (hopefully) about to enfold. I say hopefully because she won't see much if we go out in four in the first round. That would probably just seem like a condensed version of the other seasons she's seen. I'm trying to prepare her, but I don't think she quite understands. Her ultimate hockey thrill thus far was the Malik shootout goal (though she was actually more excited about Studebaker's (that's what she was calling Strudwick that night; she had just seen him on TV and thought he was cute). She's never seen a third period of Game 6 with the Rangers down 3 games to 2, and the game tied...and she's never seen me during one of those. Remember that stuff? If she thinks I'm obsessing now....oh man. She's only seen me obssess over the Kentucky Derby this time of year, and that at least would keep me really quiet, except for a minute or two during the race. I hope I don't scare her away.

- Brooks in the Post is reporting that we could very well see Marc Staal play in some really important games. Brooks asked Coach Renney if he'd be comfortable playing him. "Yes," the coach said, with a wide smile. "I would."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


- Just forget, if you can, last night’s debacle at the Garden. The Atlantic Division title is still in the bag. A win over Pittsburgh tomorrow night puts the Blueshirts in a position to clinch the division on NBC on Saturday afternoon in Philly against the shaky Flyers no matter what the out-of-town scoreboard reads between now and then; and the Rangers have won three of three there this year. Isn't that the way it should be anyway?

So forget about the loss to an inspired, but incompetent Icelander squad on home ice. Forget about the saves that DiPietro made in the opening minute, including one with his back turned, an occurrence that portended the misery to come. Forget about the awful power play, particularly in the first period, when 2 1/2 pp attempts led to zero shots. Forget about being out hit 19-13 by a team on the road to nowhere. Forget about the inexplicably missed call on Shawn Bates’ high stick of Jagr that should have given the home team another 5 on 3 and four more minutes of power play – and about the offensive zone hook on Nylander with less than two minutes left that, of course, wasn't missed...are those ever? Forget about the missed opportunities with the score 3-2 late in the third – Prucha all alone in the slot rushing his shot right into DiPietro, when he had the time to read a Harry Potter novel, and Sykora flubbing from the same spot shortly thereafter. Forget about the futile 24 third period shot effort. Forget about the Flyers beating the Pens after blowing a 3-0 lead at home. Forget about the Devils, five points behind but with only three to play. None of that matters. It’s two wins and they’re in.

But what certainly does matter, more so than the team taking the game too lightly – I mean, what did you expect less than a week after they defeated the same team, which they’ve basically toyed with all year, with a similarly half-hearted effort – and more so than the tough loss despite a good effort in New Jersey on Sunday night – is the physical state of the team. Malik has joined the list of injured starters, and half of the top six defensemen are out. Most concerning of course, is Henryk Lundqvist, who told the Post that he had "regressed a little." I was hoping that maybe Lundqvist, who speaks English well enough, nonetheless thought that “regressed” meant that it got better! But he went on to say that he "felt a little twinge skating in Boston on Saturday" AND that his “groin is a little bit sore."

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think my groin is on my hip. What exactly is this injury anyway? At first, it was portrayed as virtually nothing, something he could have played with if the game was “really important,” as if these aren't. Now, five games later, and not even well enough to practice yesterday, Renney says he wants him to play the last two games. But Dellapina in the Daily News reports that although Rucchin, Malek, and Poti (dare I say he was missed last night?) are expected to return for Saturday’s showdown, Lundqvist and Darius Kasparaitis are not as close to returning.

Huh? What does that mean? On one hand, do we really want the King to go into the Flyers game cold like that? But on the other, doesn’t he need to get some work before next Friday? What’s going on here; the players are dropping like flies. Malik reportedly reinjured the shoulder that kept him out for five games last month simply by reaching for the puck in practice. We have no idea what’s wrong with Poti, who seemed fine the last time we saw him, setting up the winning goal on Saturday. There’s no sign of Kasparaitis at all. Why is this happening now?

On the good side, Weekes continues to perform well, Thomas Pock looks like he could be another Tom Poti (the good parts), Ryan Hollweg is becoming more and more annoying to opponents, we’re in the playoffs, and the post-season ticket package plays the stupid goal song when you open it up (how cool is that?). They’ll apparently have to win in Pittsburgh with the same lineup as last night, but the team assures us that everyone, except perhaps Rucinsky, will be ready to play the post-season opener. No doubt they’ll all be out there on the ice no matter what their real condition is…..but hopefully it will be on the ice at Madison Square Garden. Win Thursday and Saturday, and it will be.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

One Man Show in OT

- Michael Nylander single-handedly earned the Rangers the extra point in their come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win in Boston. He won the opening faceoff, then prevented damage from a Jagr turnover with a back check and a solid hit on Patrice Bergeron, dished a tricky back pass to Jagr to break out of the zone, received the puck back (on a perfect pass from #68), did a couple of spin-o-ramas along the boards, put the puck right on Poti’s stick, expertly kicked a deflected return pass right to the tape of his stick, and ended the game with a perfect shot off the underside of the crossbar. He then teased NBC’s Pierre McGuire about all the “shit” he’d given him in Hartford. Expect future games to be shown on a five second delay.

Poti also had the primary assist on Jarkko Immonen’s goal, doing a good job keeping a bouncing puck in the zone, and setting the rookie up for an expertly executed tip-in.

For the third game in a row, Weekes got some help from the crossbar, when Bergeron hit it early in the second period. He could perhaps be faulted on the Bruins’ tying goal, which snuck through the short side after Poti lost the puck at the end of a long shift, but he played with confidence; we see now why he’s always been referred to as a streaky goalie.

Jagr just couldn’t seem to tee up his shot, and was credited with just three; he had many more than that thwarted. Often matched against Boston’s top line, he had an active game in the defensive zone, and was even spotted clearing the puck with 20 seconds left in a penalty kill.

Renney started and ended the third period with the HMO line, and gave them three shifts in between. Hollweg had 13 even shifts for 11:23, all at even strength. This is a trend I’d like to see continue.

It was another light-hitting but effectively workmanlike performance and a well-earned win on the road. Tonight's game against the Devils will be vastly different. With the Flyers going down and the Devils winning in Montreal, it's become ever more apparent that a first-round showdown between the two rivals is in the cards. A win tonight would be a good confidence builder after they dropped the last game 2-1.